Author Topic: Brian Corcoran, Wateford, Billy Morgan and more.... Part 1  (Read 3529 times)

Dinny Breen

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Brian Corcoran, Wateford, Billy Morgan and more.... Part 1
« on: November 14, 2006, 08:39:56 AM »
Interesting extract from Brian Corcoran's forthcoming auto-biography...

Excellent insight into the Cork mentality....

Should be interesting reading in Waterford...

Sunday Tribune

TUESDAY, 25 JULY 2006 DONAL OG CUSACK rings me at work. He's concerned. We need to raise our game, otherwise we won't beat Waterford.

He's phoned a few other players and wants to talk after training tonight. John Allen isn't available, so there won't be a full-scale team meeting until Friday, but this year's and last year's reps should bounce a few ideas together about how to approach that group meeting.

So we meet. I say that what brought us two All Irelands isn't going to bring us a third; we need to do something different. Ger Cunningham noticed how on Sunday night after the draw was made all the commentators were saying that Waterford must be happy they got us rather than Kilkenny. We're seen as the softer touch, as a team that perhaps is getting tired, that doesn't have the old hunger. We have to come out a different animal to the one that just about survived Limerick last Saturday.

I suggest that we start Friday's meeting by showing the last five minutes of the 2004 Munster final. There's nothing like a dose of reality to stir the fire within. The lads concur. Donal Og will organise that. John will open Friday's meeting, and then a few of us will talk. We're to speak with more passion than ever. The real big push has started.

FRIDAY, 28 JULY We have all been notified by text to be at Pairc Ui Chaoimh for 6.30p. m. I arrive with 10 minutes to spare. Already, most of the lads are congregated in the main hall and Donal Og is pacing up and down.

We all sit around in a large circle. John starts the DVD of the final minutes of the 2004 Munster final. [Seamus] Prendergast's point.

[Ken] McGrath's catch. The final whistle.

Their crowd flooding onto the pitch.

John presses the stop button, then asks me to speak.

"I don't know about the rest of ye, " I say, "but it sickens me to relive that. I don't want to have to relive it on Sunday week.

"John got some stick after the Clare game for saying something publicly that I have said many times within this group. The only team that will beat us is ourselves. How do we do that? We do it by not being mentally ready, by not preparing properly, by not having the right attitude.

"In coaching, they talk about 'deserving victory'. You have to feel that you deserve to win.

I have no doubt that Waterford believe they deserve to win. Why do they think that?

Maybe it's because some of their players have been around for a long time and haven't won an All Ireland. Maybe it's because they believe that they are better than us. The reality is that they have had plenty of chances and haven't taken them.

"Now, why do I believe that we deserve to win? No other team has made more sacrifices than us. No other team has been as professional as us. No other team has our team spirit. We are going for three in a row, four finals in a row, and we still haven't got the credit for it. People say that we are lucky. Luck doesn't win 12 championship games in a row.

People say that we have only two forwards.

You don't win back-to-back All Irelands with two forwards. The reality is that we are going to have to take the credit ourselves.

"Waterford hate our guts. They are sick of losing to us. They would love to stop us. We can't let that happen; we can't give them that satisfaction. Last year, in the quarter-final, with about 10 minutes to go, Tony Browne won a free. He jumped up into the air clenching his fist, turned around and eyeballed me and roared, 'You can f**k off back to Cork, Corcoran! We have ye today!' I scored the goal a couple of minutes later, and, as I was running out, I looked over at Browne.

He was bent down, with his head in his hands. I want to see him like that again on Sunday week.

"The thing is, when that goal was scored, there were still six minutes left and only three points in it. They gave up.

We wouldn't do that. We fight to the end.

This game will be spoken about in years to come. Make sure that we can look back with happy memories. It's up to everyone in this room, and it has to start when we hit the field tonight."

Joe Deane is next. He asks us to think about how we'll feel for the next four weeks if Waterford are preparing for an All Ireland final instead of us. Then Sean Og O hAilpin goes into the middle. "Sorry now for standing up, " he says, "but I want to stand up." Then he talks about the need for all of us to stand up on Sunday week, to start playing with a bit more aggression, with a bit more of a chip on our shoulder.

Donal Og talks about not underestimating the opposition, not underestimating the prize at stake and not underestimating the calibre of individual that we have going into battle with us. It's time to go onto the field, and you can just feel the energy within the group.

It's a great session . . . intense, game specific, real. It has to be. I've played three competitive matches in the last 10 weeks: the Munster final, a club championship game against Douglas and the Limerick game. Up to this week, we haven't played any matches in training, just that 12-minute conditioned game in which the first four minutes with the ground hurling is a virtual waste of time. I know the policy is probably one of the reasons we've had so few injuries these last few years but we've been going into matches in Thurles this year basically playing from memory.

It's hard to develop an understanding with Joe in the heat of championship when you haven't been playing together in training; it's very hard to get shots off in championship when you haven't had someone in your face in training.

When I won the penalty against Limerick, I had a posse of fellas on my ass. I never had that in training; even hearing their footsteps was all new.

I mentioned it to [trainer] Seanie McGrath on Tuesday night. He was setting up this drill where we run out to a ball played in to us, control it and hit it over the bar. "Right, " he said, "you have to imagine now that there's someone breathing down your neck here."

And I said, "Seanie, can we put someone in there, so?

It's one thing imagining it, another thing having someone hanging off you." Seanie agreed. So we do that tonight, and we play a match for 15 minutes.

When it's over Seanie comes over to wish us all good luck. He and Susan were married on Wednesday and fly out on their honeymoon to Bali tomorrow. It'll be the first time in four years he's been away from the team. The best present we can give him now is to make sure he has an All Ireland final to prepare for.

TUESDAY, 1 AUGUST Everything's gone to another level. The past few months, when we'd been warming up and stretching, you could hear fellas talking and, the odd time, laughing. Not now, not since last Friday's talk. No one strolls over to get their water and strolls over to the next drill. There's a greater urgency and purpose.

We play another match among ourselves.

Again, the pace is blistering. Sully's marking me and while the ball is at the other end of the field, we comment on how things have picked up. Young Cathal Naughton in particular is flying out on the wing.

I turn to Sully. "I'm surprised he hasn't seen any action yet."

"I was only saying it to Fred Sheedy the other night, " says Sully. "Imagine being a corner or wing-back and have him come running at you with 15 minutes to go. Your worst nightmare."

All the subs are really tuned in at the moment. In fairness, their attitude has always been good. I got a text from Peter Kelly last Wednesday. I had been onto him earlier looking for a business card.

"Sorry for delay, " his message went. "In pool for recovery session. Must get the edge over our opponents!"

You look at his face in some of the team photos before games and he is as tuned in as if he's about to start.

We're making a big deal of that unity this week. Waterford are a serious outfit, one of only two teams in the country who really believe they're better than us. But we see them as a bunch of individuals, while we're a team. You pick up the Examiner on a Monday morning in September or October and there always seems to be a melee in some club game between Mount Sion, Ballygunner or Lismore. This past week, John and the selectors have been consulting John Carey, the performance coach, to help with the mental preparation, and now there are more pictures and slogans on the wall.

There's a photo of Justin McCarthy and Tony Browne embracing each other after their win up in Croker against Tipp, with the headline below it, "Bring On Da Rebels!"

We have a poster, which reads:

Which world do you want to live in?

Now is the time to fight for it.

SUNDAY, 6 AUGUST Three hours to the biggest battle of our hurling lives; it all comes down to today. We've just stopped at Seanie's wall on our traditional stroll outside the Burlington. It's time for me to speak.

"Seanie normally does this, but I have been asked to do it today. At this stage, Seanie is always talking about being nice and relaxed, so I'm not going to do any shouting and roaring.

"During the week, a lot of people have said to me that we won't be able to match Waterford's hunger. I don't accept that. What is hunger? Hunger is a state of mind. You choose your hunger. It's about the future, not about the past.

"I don't know how many of you saw the British Open last week. In the last pairing of the final round, Tiger was paired with Sergio Garcia. Tiger had won 10 majors, two British Opens. Garcia had won no major, no British Open. If the logic that I have been hearing all week applied, Garcia would have eaten Woods alive. But he didn't. He was beaten on the first tee, such was Woods' intensity and desire.

"So why was Woods so hungry? The reason is that he has a goal that is greater than Garcia's. He is chasing Jack Nicklaus's record of 18 majors. He wants to be the best player of all time. He is playing for history; he is playing for greatness.

"Waterford are playing for greatness within their own county. We are playing for greatness within the history of the game of hurling.

Our goal is greater.

"Let's go out there today and show them how hungry we are for that."

Half-time and it's level, eight points apiece.

John comes in with some of Eddie's stats. His talk is positive. The conditions out there might be wet, the pitch might be ridiculously slippery, but we're controlling the controllables. Seven of our points have come from play. Only three of theirs have. It's frees that are keeping them in it. We're doing fine.

It was always going to go down to the wire.

I had it in my mind all week to take Tom Feeney on whenever I got the ball into my hand. But when I intercepted a pass of his there a few minutes into the game, I remembered Sully talking last week about fellas taking the wrong options and the wrong shots against Limerick. So, when I caught a glimpse of Tom Kenny flying up on my left, I passed it off, and Tom scored a point. With the next two balls, I shot over my shoulder out on either wing, one on the left, one on the right, and they both went over. I'm playing well, but if I get the ball in this half I'm going to run at them.

We go back out and the first thing they do is run at us. Eoin McGrath shoots, Donal Og saves, but Eoin Kelly buries the rebound.

Then Prendergast scorches through for a point. But it's like the Munster final; it's like last year's game against them. Four down with over half an hour to go is surmountable.

We're making little inroads into that lead, though. They're not pushing on, but they're not giving way either. We need someone to do something. Timmy McCarthy steps up. He gets on to a break, bursts past three of them and splits the posts . . . then punches the air with his fist. Timmy's the kind who just runs back out to his position, but he must sense someone has to give the lion's roar. And it works. All of a sudden, I feel re-energised.

We're still in this.

We need something more now. Ronan Curran and Sean Og are hurling up a storm at the other end, but so is Browne in front of me.

Then John Allen finds that extra something and unleashes it. When play stops for a John Gardiner free, Cathal Naughton comes on.

The first thing I think of as Cathal runs in is that he'll forget what's supposed to happen now. We agreed during the week that for these long-range frees the corner-forwards would come in towards the goal, break off me and sprint to the wings. He's hardly going to remember that, just coming on the field in front of 62,000 for his first inter-county match. I can't shout anything in case the Waterford lads hear, so I'll make the run here myself. Wait, no need. Naughton's making the run. He controls Gardiner's pass dead, shoots over his shoulder and bangs it straight over the bar. He remembered. Incredible.

Another lion's roar.

And then we're in the lead. I get dragged out the field looking for the ball and slip and fall to the ground. I look up, and all I can see is Ken McGrath's ass and Ken about to pick up the ball. But I can still see that ball, that inch, between his legs, and I can still get to it. I poke it away from Ken. Joe's on to it. He takes it on.

I'm sure he's about to take his point, but then he slips it in to Naughton. Again he does the right thing and the ball is in the net.

But this time Waterford don't hold their heads in their hands; this time they don't give up. They sweep downfield and score a point. We come back up, then they go back down again and the gap's back to one point.

We're in injury time and when a ball breaks around their 65, the referee awards them a free. I don't know why.

I walk past the ref. "What's that for?"

"A knee in the head."

I didn't see it, but I decide to keep my mouth shut; all the ref is looking for now is an excuse to move the ball up another 13 metres.

This is going to be the last play of the game.

There's no point in staying around our full-forward line. I run past the 21, towards our square.

"Get out!" roars Sully, like I'm a stranger trespassing on his land. If the ball is going to drop between himself and Dan Shanahan, he wants room to go at it full tilt. So I move to the left corner.

McGrath is standing over the ball. It's 90 yards out, but that's within his range. He bends down, lifts, strikes and the ball sails through the air. Is it going wide? Is it going over? Shit, it's going over. It's going over by a good two feet.

And then Donal Og puts up his hurley.

There's an old rule in goalkeeping never to challenge a ball that's going over the bar in case you bat it straight down and gift a goal.

But Donal Og's challenged every assumption about goalkeeping, and bats it out to the side.

I'm on to the break. Normally now I'd just flake this down the field, but I can't here;

McGrath is still out there and he's not going to miss a second time. I try to work it out, create space for a hand-pass, but I can't. Prendergast is blocking me. I sidestep him and tap it on my hurley, but there are bodies everywhere. I have to get rid of this thing quick now or the ref 's going to blow for a free. So I swing, and I'm hooked, but I'm glad to be hooked, because at least the ball is still at my feet, instead of down with McGrath. I throw my body at it . . . everyone throws their body at it . . . when, seconds later, down in the very corner, the ref blows it up.

I raise my arms and turn around. Curran's there, and we smile, and we hug. Then I spot Brian Murphy on the ground, on his back.

"Brian, are you all right?" I ask. No answer.

"Brian, are you all right?"

He starts to shake his groggy head and looks up at me. "Did we win or lose?"

We won, Brian. And the difference is the difference between day and night. Just look around. John Mullane's on his knees, his face staring down at the ground. I exchange a handshake and a small hug with Prendergast, like you would in front of a coffin. Because that's what it's like. No one has died, but a dream has, and it's real and it hurts.

But our dream is still alive, and it's some high knowing it and sharing the feeling with the lads.

Timmy's sitting up from me in the dressingroom. "God, Timmy, you were fired up today!"

He winks.

"It must be living close to the border there, was it?"

"Something like that, " he smiles.

A big cheer goes up. Donal Og has won the RTE Man of the Match. Only right. On a team that prides itself on fighting for that inch, he's the ultimate inch fighter. I've been talking to him there, and he's just told me about how the sliotars worked today. There were two young fellas behind the goals designated to hand them out. So Donal Og went to one of them, "Do you play hurling?"

"I don't."

He went to the other. "Do you?"

"I do."

"Right, you're my man. You have a bag of Cummins balls there. I want those. I don't want any of the others."

Your man agrees, so Donal Og doesn't go near any of the O'Neill's until after half-time, when his young friend tells him all the Cummins balls are gone.

"Right, " says Donal Og, "you're going to have to go up to the other end to get them, so.

There's no problem with it; there's nothing illegal about it. The other keeper doesn't want to hit them, he wants the O'Neill's, so you take those up to him, bring me down his Cummins and I'll give you my jersey after the game."

Somewhere in Dublin now is a young fella going around with the jersey of today's Man of the Match.

We needed every little thing today. I've said some things about Waterford here but, while I'm still glad it was them, not us, who lost today, I do feel for them, especially Ken McGrath. I see him now and I see myself as I once was. I genuinely hope some day he finds what he's looking for . . . just not in my time, not on our beat.

I'll say another thing about Waterford.

Ever since this rivalry with them started with that league final in '98, it's always been a battle, it's always been epic and it's always been a game of ball. It comes down to this. We believe we're a better team than they are, and they believe they're a better team than us, so when we meet it's a case of let's just play and show who's the better hurling team. The odd time, they win. Most of the time, we win.

Always, hurling wins. If we're Ali, then they're our Frazier.

Can't get sentimental, though. Can't get soft.

Next Sunday in Croker, two more hurling heavyweights clash, and Liston and Foreman are itching for another shot at us.